Now to get back to our life in ‘Sunny-Side’. We were very lucky because we could get all our veg and fruit from the farm, also quite a lot of fruit from the farm, also quite a lot of log wood, we also had a pig club, everyone would take turns in cleaning and feeding it. Mr Lawrence would buy it and keep it in the yard on the farm then when it was big enough they would take it to be killed and prepared by the butcher in Gravesend. They would then draw numbers from a hat and whichever number you received you would get that joint. The liver we would share, some people did not want the ‘chitlings’ (as we called them we loved it.
We didn’t ever eat pork if the month had a letter ‘R’ in it. (I never did find out why.)
At Christmas Mr Lawrence would give each worker a large hundred weight sack of potatoes, a box of Cox eating apples, a box of Bramley cooking apples, a big bag of oranges and one week’s wages in a brown envelope. Also two bright shiny halfcrowns in a little brown envelope for each child. It was so thrilling, we used to go into Mr Lawrence’s house to receive all this. He was very kind I would have liked to give him a hug. There was no other farmer who was so good.
When we had used all the potatoes we would give Erns mother the sacks, she used to make rag rugs with them, she was very good at it, they would look very pretty when she finished them, but how she could lift them to shake them I never knew, they were as heavy as lead. Once thing was they would never wear out, she would cut up all sorts of things for them, even old coats. She was a lovely old dear, always put ‘Libbys milk in her tea (that is evaporated milk). She also knitted the most gorgeous socks for men, they were so soft. When Ern had a hole in his she would unpick them and re-foot them as good as new. She used to remind me of a ‘Mammy’, her name was Suzannah (most unusual), her sister was Floss who was marred to Theobald (he used to play the violin). They were a devoted couple, Ern and I used to visit them. They had three children, Mary, John and Alan. I still keep in touch with the children. Ern’s mother’s name was Earl, very unusual to hear that isn’t it. The children live in Halling near Cuxton.
I forgot this bit: When Mrs Bicker made a cup of tea she always put loose tea leaves in the strainer, poured hot water over it into the cup, she never ever used a teapot. You didn’t have tea bags in those days.
I loved the ‘Lodge’ where they lived, it had been thatched years before and the porch was made from the boughs of trees. [I must take you down one day, perhaps you could take a camera then we could take the boys up the park to show you where I used to live. Also when the hall is opened to the public we will go down there, you would love it.]
When Jen was two we thought we were ready for another baby (a boy), after a while I was pregnant or rather ‘with child’, again Mum came to the rescue, said I could go to her for the birth. Lena had moved into Mrs Knight’s house (she had moved to Lawrence Drive) which by the way was named after Mr Lawrence the farmer. So Lena said she would look after Jen for me while I had my baby. I was still working on the farm we were picking apples one lovely sunny day. Jen was talking! and playing with the rest of the children, when all of a sudden someone said to me ‘Jenny has eaten some black berries from under a tree’. When I looked they were deadly nightshade (very poisonous) so I took her up to Mr Lawrence’s house, he had a friend with him who took me to Gravesend hospital. They pumped her tummy out, quite a few came out, enough to make her very very ill they told me. She was soon her old self. Mind you I was very scared, I was about three months pregnant so I was a bit worried about the baby. Then Jenny had a bad cough, the doctor said to keep her in the one temperature in one room so Ern brought our bed downstairs in the sitting room. We kept a small fire going all night with a few logs. Well I must tell you this, in the middle of the night I had an awful nightmare, I felt I was awake and looked in the bottom of our bed and my sister Ivy was lying there dead. When I looked around there were little angels flying all around the room. When I woke I was really upset, I felt something had happened to my baby.
I think it was the fire flickering and I must have been half awake, so I suppose that would account for the angels. Then I kept saying to Ern ‘I cannot feel any movement’ I kept moving about to wake this baby up. I think it was being so worried about Jen that caused it. Anyway all was well. Then I was at my mum’s one day and Jen was running and fell over and knocked a tooth out. Never a dull moment.
When at last it was time for my new baby ‘boy’ Lena and Len came round for tea and I started to get pains, so after their tea they took Jen home and Ern and I walked across the church fields up to Mum’s. I had to keep stopping while the pains went away. When we arrived at Mum’s my brother Fred was there with his family, it was Whit Monday. Anyway they soon went home, so I prepared for the big event. Everyone said the second one is a lot easier, so I felt confident. Mum and I got the bed all ready but the kettle on to boil on the old Kitchener, a big draw sheet on the bed, a piece of old blanket to wrap the baby in when ‘he’ arrived. Then came the big wait. Mum said to keep walking about as long as you can, it will make the birth easier.
Well at three o’clock in the morning I am still walking about, apart from killing back pains, nothing! Mum kept saying he won’t come until you get a show of some sort. Ern said he would go and get the nurse, so we agreed. He was gone for ages. When at last he came back, he had cycled all the way up to Laughing Waters Nissan huts to find the nurse, she was attending another birth so could not come. Mum said not to worry she knew what to do. All at once I was on the bed everything was happening, Robert was born so quickly my poor mum was really crying, I said ‘mum what is it, a boy or a girl’, she said ‘it’s got so many bits hanging I’m not sure’. When we really looked at him he was a boy but he had extra little fingers on both hands.
At last the nurse came, she said the doctor would have to come in because I was so torn and needed stitches. So Dr Kagan came in the next day and put stitches and took my sons little fingers off. I said to Mum isn’t he like Jen, my Mum said no he was very different. When Jen came into see me and the new baby brother, she said ‘not very handsome is he’ mind you he was very red, even the doctor called him a little red lobster. I thought he was just everything I ever wanted. Mind you Jen was such a good girl, she never wanted to come along to see me or worry Mum. She really loved being with with Unc, she went everywhere with him. He was so proud of her she was always holding his hand. It was a nice feeling knowing she was being well looked after. We were so happy. I would just lay there thanking God for being so kind and giving me everything anyone could want. I wanted this to last for ever. My son was nine pounds.
We stayed with Mum for two weeks, it was lovely. Then came the time after being ‘churched’ to go home to ’Sunny-Side’, it was a nice sunny day so we proudly walked home with our little family. Ern said ‘I will get the copper alight ready for you to have a nice bath’ I sure needed one. The nurse used to put this huge bedpan under one’s bottom and pour a large jug of Dettol water through your legs, mind you even that made you feel a bit fresher.
Anyway Ern had been down home in the morning to light the fire and get the room warm. We only ever had heat in the kitchen. Ern said he reckoned the water was hot enough now, I got Jen ready I thought I would pop her in first then get in after. My house wasn’t anywhere near so comfy as my Mum’s. I was already missing her. Just as I got Jenny ready the darling little baby started to cry. Ern had put an old rubber pipe in the copper which was in the kitchen to reach the bath he had made a small hole in the door to put the pipe through. Well when he opened the door the pipe had come out of the bath and all the boiling water was on the floor. It was too hot to even mop up, the baby was still crying, Jenny was whinging she was getting cold. ‘Well’ Ern was saying ‘ I didn’t think it would come out of the bath’. I just broke down in tears, I wanted my Mum, I thought I will never be able to cope with all these things. I did find it very hard at first, it seemed never ending.
I didn’t take my new baby on the farm to work, I was feeding him myself so it was a bit awkward. So I went ‘hopping’ we would walk up to the village as soon as it was daylight. Ern would push the pram with Jenny and Robert in. I would push Ern’s bike for him to come home on. In those days you had to be on the hop fields very early, there were quite a few do’s and don’t’s. At dinner time a man would call out ‘pull no more bines’ so one would make sure you had plenty hidden in the bin so you could pick a few more after time. Then he would tell everyone when to start again.
We had a short break in the morning and again in the afternoon. We would have what they called faggots, they were bundles of twigs to light a fire. A big tank on wheels full of water to fill the billy can for tea. We just put leaves in the can and a tin of condensed milk to spoon into our mugs of tea. Most of the mugs were enamel, so they didn’t break. Everyone had bread and cheese, might have been one or two onions if there was an allotment close by. The stain from the hops would make the bread all green and very bitter tasting, but we all loved it. The tea would taste of wood smoke but we didn’t have time to moan about it. In the morning it would be very foggy and everywhere was wet and cold. In the afternoon when the sun came out it would be so hot it nearly baked everyone sitting on the bin.
When it was time to walk back home, I would go into my mum’s house to clean my hands with a paraffin rag to take the hop stain off, then dash back home to cook dinner for us in the evening. We always had potatoes with our main meal and not much else, perhaps a rasher of bacon and some cabbage, followed by apple and custard. Ern did love his puddings. Then it would be one mad rush to bath the nippers and get them to bed. I had about twelve pounds at the end of it all. You only got paid at the end.
Back to the farm
After that year I went back to the farm, mind you the women were very good to me. There was a lot of work in the barn so if I had to work outside they would let me leave my baby in the pram with them. Mr Burns was the foreman and he very often gave me work in the barn, packing fruit. We were very happy working for Mr Lawrence. Ern used to take his mouth organ and when everyone was settled up in the trees picking cherries, he would play us all a tune we would all join in singing even old Mr Burns used to smile which was very rare. Everyone was so happy we all got on so well. There were about twenty of us. We used to have a break at ten o’clock then twelve to one dinner and finish most times about four. You had to finish your box of fruit. It was nice being able to work with Ern. We never came home without something, either pieces of wood for ‘mornings wood’ or logs for the fire, fruit or veg of some sort, it helped out such a lot. We used to get corn for our six chickens. My children loved to run up when the chickens were telling us they had laid an egg, they would cup it in their little hands all warm and brown. I often wondered how many they dropped. Sometimes the chickens would eat them so we would fill up a shell with mustard to stop them. We also kept a few cockerels to fatten up for dinner and if we sold any I would get them all ready for the table and get one pound for each of them. We really thought it was wonderful. Bet they did as well, I mean the folk that bought them! Ern used to get Maurice to come up to kill them as he could not do it himself.
When Robert was seven months old Lena went into All Saints hospital to give birth to Les. He was such a poor little thing, only weighed four pounds. Lena had to keep him rubbed over with oil and not put him in a bath. I did feel sorry for her. Robert was just at that bonny stage so it made it seem worse. Poor little love I felt I wanted to take him and care for him. I never did think anyone could look after them as well as I could. (Things never change). It was nice when after a while Len and Lena came down to live next door. I loved old Len nearly as much as my Ern, he always seemed to be the same, bless him. Ern and Len got on very well with each other. They were always having a laugh.
When we worked in the orchard, they had a hut with a long handles at each end, like a hop bin, it had a closed front with a lavatory seat on top. The men would dig a large hole in the ground and put this hut over the top, it was for everyone to use as a toilet (well for a wee). There was a nice lavatory up at the farm with flush toilet. The men used to move the hunt, which was called a ‘Dunacan’ every few weeks. Also up the farm for everyone’s dinner hour was a nice room with an open stove to boil the kettle and wash basins.
I stayed for dinner, I would sit on the carrier of Ern’s bike then he would haul me pulling the pram behind him. When we got home we would have bread and milk. We both had it down to a fine art, Ern would do the milk and I would cut the bread up, then I would sort the nippers and pram out while Ern got the basins ready. I used to say to the kids, it anyone asks what you have had for your dinner tell them you cannot remember. I did not want them all knowing we were hard up. Mind you it kept us going. I did cook a meal when I finished work at night. Good job we liked bread and milk
When I was a girl I used to think people were very posh if they had cows milk. I thought everyone had tin milk, it only used to cost about three pennies a tin. We used a lot of tin milk even after we were married, Ern loved it in his flask.
When Rob was three months old, Lena and I took him to a baby show over at Istead Rise, he won first prize. I was so proud of him, mind you I don’t like baby shows, because everyone thinks their babies are the best. Anyway Lena and I brought some raffle tickets between us, we couldn’t afford many and we won a lovely chicken meal, all the veg, stuffing, fruit and even a Christmas pudding with cream, there were also some nylon stockings. We came home very pleased with ourselves. We had dinner together on Sunday.
When Rob was about fourteen months old, just learning to walk, he fell in the garden and split his lip open, I was so scared I couldn’t stop it from bleeding. Ted Body lived next door, he said ‘jump in my gal, I’ll get yer to the quacks’ which he did. Dr Kagan stitched it up. In the morning he had pulled them all out with his teeth, he looked awful. So I go round to Mr Lawrence, once again one of his friends took us to the hospital. The doctor said he was far too young to have been stitched, so he put something on his lip and said bring him back every day. I had to keep it bathed, the doctor said don’t let it heal too quickly or he will have a big scar. Anyhow it did heal very well thank goodness.
Rob was always knocking his head and would get awful nose bleeds. One day they were playing blind mans buff, he put a sack on his head, of course he fell and hit his head on the wall. I said to Ern I’m sure I can see his brains, it was a bad cut, it must have been muscles I could see, but it sure did bleed. My children were never indoors, even when they were in the pram I would put them in the stable (‘No Ern, not feed them hay silly’).
One day we were over Thong picking up potatoes, ruddy hard work. I was sitting on a sack of spuds for two minutes waiting for the spinner to come round, little Rob put his arms round my legs and said ‘Mum I love you with all my blessed heart’. Mr Burns was close by, he said ‘Well you can’t say better than that’. I worked like ten men after that, it really made up for everything. I never ever forgot it.
They were very good kids, they could always find something to do. When they were at home they used to tie a piece of hop string on an old stick, let the chickens out and play ‘Raw Hide’ it was a series from television. The blinking chickens would be all over Ern’s garden, squawking and hollering, I think they laid two eggs a day after that.
We didn’t have anything modern, we had what we called a ‘safe’ on the wall outside it was like a box with wire gauze on the door, we used to keep things cool in it making sure it was in the shade.
We had Jim and Pete, butcher boys, who came round twice a week with meat. Mr Cook used to come once a week, he sold all hardware stuff including paraffin. There was also a baker and milkman. We didn’t buy very much from any of them. We would sometimes get a small cheap cut of meat on a Friday. I used to cook it in the summer the same day, we had to as there was no fridge, when we had milk I used to boil it as soon as it came, otherwise it would go sour. It was funny really because I thought that was how everyone lived. Mind you the old Kitchener was a good stove, I used to boil bones which one could get for nothing, on top of the stove for a stew. A kettle would be kept boiling on top for whatever hot water was needed. I kept an old big bucket type thing in one corner for the nappies. A milk pudding in the oven. On the top shelf I would bake potatoes in their jackets, if I had bacon I would put that on an enamel plate in the bottom, it cooked really well.